Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ain't that America

I like to pretend that I’m past the anger. I like to think I have an endless wellspring of patience when it comes to listening to people speculate on "the issue” which is the current state of my city. Last night I lost that patience.

I was having dinner in L.A. with some folks I knew, and some folks I didn’t. I ended up sitting next to a guy I didn’t know. He was a young guy, about to get an undergraduate degree in business and then go to law school. He was quick to inform everyone that he was a diehard republican and wanted to eventually become a judge. He was neatly groomed, a little too neat for a guy….you know the type. He was the kind of guy that has the world keenly compartmentalized in his mind…with an obsessive need to get the people he meets into those cerebral compartments. Kind of like the way Obi Wan described the Sith – “One who speaks in absolutes”….you know the type.

Initially, I thought I might get through the night without “the issue” coming up…no such luck.

“So you’re from New Orleans….how’s it going down there?”


I like the semantic impact of unwell…it usually just hangs in the air and people don’t really know what to do with it. I’ve successfully cut off conversations about “the issue” a number of times with unwell. But not tonight…I was sitting next to Mr. Neat and unwell didn’t quite fit into his compartments.

He started to dig.

“Why is it so bad down there? I don’t understand why you guys can’t get anything done.”

“Well, we don’t have the financial resources or political leadership to do it.”

“How can that be true? Haven’t we been sending you all that money?”

I assume by "we" he meant America...or maybe he had a mouse in his pocket and donated to the Red Cross.

“I’ve heard there's money coming…but I haven’t seen it. Look, it’s important to understand the breadth of destruction in the city…80% of the city was flooded.”

“If it’s that bad, why rebuild it?”

I was still ok…really….I was cool.

“Well, aside from the fact that many of us who live there really love our city, it’s a very important city and area to sustaining the country’s economic infrastructure. ..over 30% of the country’s energy supply runs through the southern end of our state. Our port is one of the busiest in the world. We have petro-chemical plants lined along the Mississippi between New Orleans and Baton Rouge which are absolutely vital to our food supply…we do a lot for this country quite often at the expense of our own health.”

“I don’t get it, why can’t we just move all that stuff to another state?”

“Aside from the fact that it’s geographically and financially impossible….no other states want these type of factories in their backyard. Refineries and Petro-Chem plants…they’re very nasty creatures. They create a lot of poor health conditions for the people in the surrounding areas. They call the area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge ‘Cancer Alley’”

“Why the hell would people live around them or work in them? Why don’t they just leave…are they just to stupid to realize what they’re living in?”

For some reason…that’s what set me off. It doesn’t even bother me that much now that I read it, but when he spoke the words, it very much chapped my ass.

“Because some people have to work for a living. Someone has to make plastic so you can eat fresh Pop-Tarts before you go to your business ethics class. Some people don't have as many options as you do.”

He rambled on about it being a free country and regurgitated a wave of asinine platitudes he pulled off the conservative bookshelf. I was waiting for him to ask why we couldn't get Mexicans to work in those plants...that's the kind of crap that was flowing out of his mouth.

Luckily the food showed up pretty quickly and his hunger took precedence over his need to rationalize “the issue”.

I let it get to me. It was really eating at me driving back to my hotel room. I just kept wondering how many morons there are in this country who really think like this. This guy wants to be a judge…that’s pretty scary.

Later on I got a call from one of my friends from Kentucky who works in a very nasty plant…uranium enrichment…very nasty.

“Hey man…I was just watching that Spike Lee documentary on HBO last night…Jesus Christ, man…I had no idea how bad the shit is down there, man! We oughtta string Bush up by his balls…this shit just ain’t right, man! I just can’t believe this is America…it just ain’t right, man!”

I choked back a tear…or two.

“I know man….it’s not right at all.”

“What can we do about it, man? I’m ready to drive to Washington and start kickin’ somebody’s ass!”

I went from tears to laughter in a millisecond…because I knew if given the opportunity, he would kick somebody in Washington's ass.

“You know bro…just calling me and telling me you care is enough for me right now, I don’t particularly feel the need to kick anyone’s ass anymore.”

We yabbed for a while about the woes of the world…and at the end of the night, I felt a lot better.


Unknown said...

Keep your spirits up. I deal with these idiots all the time. They don't want to hear the reality. They want to tell YOU want is going on in your world. (They heard so on Fox.) Look at it this way. It gives us all the more reason to rebuild New Orleans and let these ugly closed minded people stay in there own ugly world away from us. LOL! Thanks for the "unwell" response. I will remember that.

Judy Thorne said...

Jeesh. Sorry you had to sit next to such a pretentious imbecile. You handled it well. Glad your friend called and made you feel better.

Thanks for this post.

Anonymous said...

For the guy you had to dine with, feel free to refer him to FYYFF. One stop shopping.

I swear, you just can't speak rationally to people that don't "get it", and many of them have no desire to "get it".

For the other guy, keep him on speed dial.

It's hard to explain how it is here to people that haven't seen, felt, and smelled it. Evidently, the Spike Lee film is helping.

Jason Brad Berry said...

Ashley, I had completely forgot about FYYFF post, bro. Thanks for bringing it back...Goddam that's classic. I think the Historic New Orleans Collection should frame it and hang it on the wall.

Schroeder has had some moment's of ire, but nothing comes close to that.

Yeah, I think Spike has raised awareness...I've been traveling non-stop and I've had a lot discussions with folks about the film. It was just really heartening to hear from him out of nowhere at that moment.

Jason Brad Berry said...

Judy, I was more pissed off at myself that i let him get to me. My problem was, I actually engaged him, he suckered me in....I should have just ignored it.

I just thought i was past all that shit, ya know? then i let it come right back up. I'm just pissed at myself more than anything.

Anonymous said...

If he had had a sandwich you could have shoved it down his throat or slapped it on his forehead.
"May the baby Jesus open your mind and shut your mouth" always comes in handy. Then you don't have to say anything else. Screw 'em.

Anonymous said...

Shampoo. When people don't understand why it's essential to rebuild New Orleans and South Louisiana (or refuse to try), I like to remind them of things they don't even know they'd be missing. If they can't remember the gas spike or the Folgers coffee scare, remind them that they can't wash their hair without us. More than half the chemical industry's capacity to manufacture one of shampoo's vital ingredients is located right here. Sometimes it's the odd little everyday items that drive the point home better than the global economic impact. If the country had more oil on its scalps than in its cars, they'd be begging their representatives to free up the recovery money.

Jason Brad Berry said...

Becky, hey, it's good to hear from you.

yeah, i omitted about 75% of the conversation, but i did tell him to "look at the table we're sitting at...probably half of things you're looking at were either made in Louisiana or came through our port."

My problem was that i actually engaged the fuckin' guy. He pushed my blue collar button...that's what really got me.

The fact that one of my friends (factory worker) I haven't talked to in a while called me to tell me how angry he was after watching the Lee was just a little synchronicity which gave me a boost.

Anonymous said...

I admire your restraint with that idiot.
BTW - congrats on this:

You have a great blog! I'm a fan.

Jason Brad Berry said...

Likewise Mermaid...although yours is much prettier than mine :).

thanks for that link...I love The Nation. I didn't really think anyone was reading this besides our own circle of bloggers...which are really the only one's I care about anyway.


G Bitch said...

Fabulous post, really. Even in your fury, you were collected and rational which is hard face-to-face with I'm-OK-why-can't-YOU-people-be-OK willfully mindless wingnut bullshit. Along with FYYFF, this post should be required reading. I'm in awe.

Jason Brad Berry said...


not sure how i have missed your blog all this time...i just went through it...How did i miss you?

Have rectified that mistake. Thanks for comments.

Professor Zero said...

Excellent post.

I like Ashley's comments:

I swear, you just can't speak rationally to people that don't "get it", and many of them have no desire to "get it".

For the other guy, keep him on speed dial.

Mr. Clio said...

Been there, dude, but you have detailed it better than I ever could.

What's beautiful is that your account is truly nonpolitical. You don't have an agenda, other than decent treatment for regular folks. That's going to get you in trouble, bra.

spocko said...

Hi Dambala: I came over here from First Draft on Scout Prime's recommendation. GREAT Post. And although I'm sorry that you felt that he "got your goat" I really really appreciate you sharing your specific arguments about rebuilding and your encounter.

Why? Because as much as people say, "you are preaching to the choir" not everyone in the choir is on the same page. We don't have all the best responses prepared. We don't have the authoritative "man on the ground" information.

This information is important to share. In two weeks I'm going back to the Midwest with a bunch of right-wing republican relatives. If they bring up the flood and hurricane in New Orleans and mouth out their Rush/Hannity/Fox bullshit I'll have YOUR arguments memorized to talk to them about. Not all of them will get it, but the less bullheaded will go, "OH. Hmmm. Never thought of THAT. Okay, maybe it should be rebuilt there."

Believe me when I tell you that Mr. Jerk would never tell you to your face that you "won" the argument because that would be lowering his status by admitting a mistake. However, the people AROUND him might have heard this exchange and you will influence THEM. Also sometimes obtuse guys like this will modify their positions LATER when YOU AREN'T there. (See Debra Tanner's book on male communcation modes-"why men don't ask directions and other fears of status lowering acts.")

One thing that I have done in response to these people is to ask them a question that you know the answer to. For example:
"Just curious. How much of the nation's energy do you think flows through the southern half of LA?" Asking him the question is DIFFERENT than telling him the answer. It changes their interaction with you.

I also use this technique with people who are on my side to help them understand the US and torture.

"How many people do you think died in Abu Ghraib due to abuse?"
When they are surprised that ANYONE even died I tell them.
As of 2004 5 were confirmed 23 still in process. This is according to the Army's own Schlesinger report. Many think that NOBODY died and it is all about the underwear on the head.

Now that I have asked them the question they have to engage. They have to THINK and recall if they have heard that. They can find out that they were NOT as aware as they thought. If I'm not a jerk about their lack of information, they learn that they were NOT getting the full story and that their assumptions might not be correct. This works best on well meaning, but uninformed people on either side.

But I'm not here to criticize your response, I think IT WAS GREAT and I appreciate you sharing it. I blogged about them at my blog.
I'm going to be memorizing them for my trip. And I'll be asking people the question, "How much of the nation's energy supply flows through the southern half of LA?"

(Here is my post on the subject at First Draft, below that is the link to my post on your great response on my blog)
I second Scout's recommendation. American Zombie has some GREAT answers to WHY we must rebuild. Seriously read it. It will give you an "elevator pitch" to the people (on any side) who wonder what the problem is or think things are fine. I've memorized the responses.

Also Ashley Morris' post is a hoot and a half. (x rated tho)

I linked and posted on these two thanks to Scout's heads up. Thanks for leading me there Scout!

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of assholes out there with a similar attitude. They're in the minority, but they tend to be very vocal in airing their views.

Good job not sinking to his level.